The conventional workday is a thing of the past. According to research provided by the International Data Corporation, 119.7 million workers, or 75.5 percent of the United States workforce, will work outside the office at least part time in 2013, up from 72.2 percent in 2008. With the invention of smartphones and tablets, workers are no longer chained to their desk. Unfortunately, their desktops still are.
Remote access apps for mobile devices like the iPad 2 help solve this disconnect dilemma. With a touch of a button, the iPad's remote desktop apps allow you to view and use your computer's files and applications whether you are abroad, at home, or anywhere in between. "It's a window," says Bill French, founder of iPad CTO, an online adviser of Apple's tablet for c-level executives. "Your iPad is a window to your desktop."
The ability to reach to your desktop remotely is not new technology. But as the mobile workforce develops, so does the technology it uses. "The iPad is cheaper, lighter, and has better battery life than a typical 'office' laptop," says Ben Smith, mobile technology expert for Focus.com.
And with millions sold in the first year and a second generation already released, the iPad represents the growing importance of mobile devices in business. "Companies have come to realize that they need their people to be always on," said French. "I can't imagine who needs less agility. I can't imagine who would do better by having less access."
Using these apps might be a snap decision, but choosing the right brand, linking it to your desktop and employing best practices for your business still takes some thought. Here's how to make the best decisions in installing a remote access app on your iPad.
Installing a Remote Access App on Your iPad: RDP or VNC
Before shopping for apps, decide between Remote Desktop Protocol (RDP) and Virtual Network Computing (VNC). In their simplest form, these protocols determine how your computer is reflected onto your iPad. Most apps support both options, but they provide distinct remote access experiences.
RDP is the most efficient method of remote access for Windows users. It interprets and transmits only the data an iPad needs to imitate the functions of your desktop. Most Windows computers come with RDP already embedded. "RDP services are nearly 100 percent in place in corporate workplaces," said Patrick Jordan, founder and editor-in-chief of JustAnotheriPadBlog.com. "The interface is familiar, so it makes things easier to do remotely."
VNC serves as a functional alternative for Mac users by streaming a literal video of your desktop to your iPad. Because this video refreshes constantly to show motion on the screen, it runs slightly slower than RDP with a weaker Internet connection. Still, VNC's most competitive feature for both Windows- and Mac-based companies is its ability to train remotely. Its video-based process allows users on both the desktop and iPad to both see and use the desktop simultaneously.
"Ask yourself what your real business objectives are," said French. "If it's to train someone on their PC while they watch you use it, RDP is completely out off the table."
Dig Deeper: Navigating the Switch to Multiple Computers
Installing a remote access app on your iPad: Pick the Right App
Once you've selected RDP or VNC, it's time to go shopping.
When reading reviews or testing software, keep in mind phrases like touch interface or screen-rendering performance—essentially how well you can drive your remote computer with the tip of your finger. Functions that allow you to manipulate the desktop such as zoom or scroll are especially important on Windows computers not originally designed for touch screen computing. "It's an issue of fluidity," said French. "You wouldn't see a jerky scroll behavior on anything that Apple would write, so when you swipe to scroll on your remote desktop, it should be seamless as well."
Also, consider your desktop's integration with your mobile device. Remote access applications are more than a window into your desktop. They also allow you to retrieve a piece of information, use that information on your iPad, and return it to your desktop. Most remote access apps have the ability to copy text, but few are able to copy full documents and paste them into your iPad environment due to iOS security boundaries. Before buying an app, make sure you understand its remote copy capabilities.
While hundreds of varieties of remote access apps exist, only a few consistently receive rave reviews. LogMeIn Ignition is one favorite. "Far and away, it seems like the best solution," said Brad Spirrison, managing editor for Appolicious, a mobile app discovery site. "It's the most quality product out there, and it's not an overwhelming price point."
LogMeIn Ignition costs $30 for universal access for your iPad, iPhone and iPod Touch, a price slightly higher than other options. Other high quality apps like Wyse PocketCloud, Jump Desktop and Jaadu cost between $15 and $25. With any app, the most important thing to consider is how you plan to use it. Read through the descriptions and reviews of several before deciding which app best fits what you and your company needs.
Dig Deeper: Expert Corner: Remote Access on a Budget
Installing a remote access app on your iPad: Link to Your Desktop and More
With your app selected, it's time to install it. "It's like with any install from the app store," said Jordan. "Essentially one tap and away you go."
Linking your remote access app to your desktop, laptop or other device is usually equally as painless. Once your app recognizes an IP address, a single tap will access your desktop. Then, adjust your access and security settings to suite your personal preferences."With small organizations, this stuff pretty much works right out of the box," French says.
Companies with larger networks of computers might face additional complications from network tunneling, firewalls, or other security issues. Because the matrix of computer systems and configurations is enormous, no single solution exists for these headaches. IT professionals within your company or outside consultants with network knowledge are your best options should things go awry.
Dig Deeper: Three Remote Tech Support Services
Installing a remote access app on your iPad: Increase Your Productivity
With your remote access app installed and your desktop linked up, you are now a full-fledged mobile worker. But before you jet across the world with only iPad in hand, test its remote access connection while sitting in front of your desktop. Keep in mind that your connection will work better using wireless internet rather than a 3G connection.
When you're ready to leave the office, remember to keep your computer on. While developing technology will eventually allow you to power your computer on and off remotely, remote access apps cannot access devices that are shut off. Adjust your desktop screen settings to blank to maintain privacy over your work while you're outside the office. Also, while working in public, be wary of people reading your screen over your shoulder. "It's easy to forget that files back in the office might be more sensitive than the ones you normally carry around or e-mail," says Smith.
Now that your new remote access app is ready to go, take advantage of its many possibilities. Beyond accessing files on your desktop from outside the office, remote desktop apps allow you to share company-stored information at presentations and events, use expensive applications on your iPad without buying second copies, and run intensive data processes using as few bytes as sending a picture. Let your desktop have the office to itself. With a remote desktop app on your iPad, you can stay productive wherever you go.
Dig Deeper: Best Remote Access Software: LogMeIn